The Watergate scandal is old hat to most Americans today. Nearly everyone knows about the bungled burglary at the Watergate office complex, followed by a shoddy cover-up. We know about the aftermath: the Midnight Massacre, the Nixon tapes, the erased part of the tapes, the Supreme Court battles, and finally, Nixon’s giant sweaty face telling us all he was going to resign effective “noon tomorrow.”
What led to all of this was the painstaking reporting of Woodward and Bernstein. They came up with a small lead. It grew incrementally larger, then snowballed into something huge and unprecedented: men at the top levels of the Nixon Administration were doling out huge sums of cash; they hired the burglars, and used their influence to effectuate the cover-up.
“All the President’s Men” follows Woodward and Bernstein as they chase down leads, have doors slammed in their faces, and persevere, trying to understand how deeply ingrained the story truly was, and digging to get enough proof to take it to print.
This film would never have worked without the right casting. Robert Redford has always been a good actor. He’s not great, but he’s solid and people like him–he’s a movie star. Dustin Hoffman is method-twitchy, hyperkinetic, and always acted like he’d chugged a quart of coffee before each scene. Between them, as Woodward and Bernstein, respectively, they showed unbelievable chemistry. Hoffman shone especially bright as Bernstein. In one scene, he comes back from an interview with a source. He pulls out napkins, matchbook covers, every possible scrap of paper, and throws them on Woodward’s desk. “Where are your notes?” “These ARE my notes! Jeez, I sat there drinking 25 cups of coffee, and I just wrote on anything I could find!” (Not a direct quote, but it was something like that)
Jason Robards plays Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee as a tough sell. Time and again, he told “Woodstein,” as he called the two, that he believed them, but they needed more proof, more sources, more confirmation. Robards won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance. (Irrelevant movie-geek factoid: Robards would also win the following year for “Julia” (Even less-relevant movie-geek factoid: both of his Oscars were for portraying real people, Bradlee here and Dashiell Hammett in “Julia”))
There were dozens of excellent performances in small roles. This is a movie that moves quickly, echoing the frenetic actions of the reporters–the movie doesn’t have room for most characters to develop, but those who have these small roles nail them.
The wonder of “All the President’s Men” is that it’s a true story. As much as Woodstein fact-checked the hell out of their stories, so did screenwriter William Goldman RE-fact-check everything. God forbid the movie libels someone. (Goldman won an Oscar for his screenplay)
Two reporters chasing down a story. That’s the simple description of “All the President’s Men.” The implications make the story huge–a scandal that rocked the government. Alan J. Pakula’s film, with its spot-on performances and amazing pacing, create a big-enough, powerful-enough masterpiece to do that story justice.
(All the President’s Men, directed by Alan J. Pakula; originally rated R, now rated PG for a few f-bombs (though fewer than in one verse of your typical rap song))